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Missouri judge finds GOP redistricting measure misleading

Posted at 4:19 PM, Aug 17, 2020

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (AP) -- A Missouri judge on Monday rewrote the summary for a legislative redistricting measure that will appear on the November ballot, ruling that the state's Republican-led Legislature tried to misleadingly entice voters into repealing an anti-gerrymandering reform that voters approved just two years ago.

The decision by Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce struck down the Legislature's ballot summary for Amendment 3 as insufficient, unfair and partly false. She replaced it with a ballot summary suggested by a group that sponsored the successful 2018 measure and is opposed to this year's revision.

Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who represented the Legislature and secretary of state, can appeal the ruling.

Redistricting is a big topic nationally because all states must redraw their congressional and legislative districts based on the results of this year's census. In most states, those redistricting decisions will be made next year by lawmakers and governors, though an increasing number of states have shifted the responsibility to special commissions.

Missouri was among five states where voters in 2018 approved ballot measures designed to diminish the potential for political influences in redistricting. It's the only state to require a nonpartisan demographer to draw state House and Senate districts to achieve "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness" as determined by a specific mathematical formula.

An Associated Press analysis showed that the formula likely would lead to Democratic gains in the Legislature while dropping Republican majorities closer to the more even partisan division often reflected in statewide races.

The Republican-led Legislature this year referred a new amendment to the November ballot that would abolish the nonpartisan demographer position -- returning the task to a pair of bipartisan commissions -- and relegate "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness" to the bottom of the criteria.

Like the 2018 measure, the Legislature's revision combines the redistricting changes with popular measures to lower campaign contribution limits and restrict lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.

The ballot summary written by the Legislature said a "yes" vote would "ban all lobbyist gifts," reduce contribution limits and create citizen-led commissions to draw districts based on several criteria.

Joyce ruled that the summary wrongly failed to tell voters that Amendment 3 "would eliminate the legislative redistricting rules Missourians overwhelmingly adopted just two years ago to combat political gerrymandering and replace them with a redistricting process similar in substance to the one they just voted to abandon."

The judge said the Legislature's summary sought "to entice voters" to pass it by "misleadingly overstating" the lobbyist and contribution restrictions. Joyce said the summary was "literally false" for saying it would ban "all" lobbyist gifts when gifts from unpaid lobbyists and those who are related to lawmakers would still be allowed.

In addition to tweaking the wording about gifts and campaign contributions, the judge ordered the ballot summary to state that the measure would "repeal rules for drawing legislative districts approved by voters in November 2018 and replace them with rules proposed by the legislature."